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Lawsuit alleges sexual harassment and abuse in Berrien County Jail

Apr 21, 2016

Credit Michael Coghlan / Flickr Creative Commons / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Ten women have sued Berrien County and two sheriff’s deputies and two sergeants who worked in the county jail.

The women say they were coerced into having sex while they were inmates in the southwest Michigan jail.

The lawsuit filed this month in federal court alleges three of the individual defendants repeatedly requested sexual favors in exchange for money and other benefits between 2008 and 2015.  The complaint says due to the influence of their positions, the three sheriff department personnel were able to coerce or force the plaintiffs to submit to their demands.

The lawsuit also claims the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office did not properly investigate complaints or adequately supervise its personnel.

In a written statement, the sheriff’s office “denies any wrongdoing or prior knowledge of any of the alleged misconduct.”

According to the statement, an investigation was conducted in 2015, and it revealed no evidence of any alleged misconduct taking place inside the Berrien County Jail. It said two of the four named individual defendants resigned and a third was terminated “due to their off-duty misconduct.” 

The sheriff’s office said the fourth named defendant is still employed. No specific allegations were made against him in the complaint.

According to Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic, the sheriff’s office forwarded its investigation to him to review for potential criminal charges.

“Because of allegations in the complaint, we are having to go back to the drawing board,” said Sepic.

Sepic declined further comment because the matter is still in the investigative stages.